News and Commentary

Here’s What ‘Allahu Akbar’ Really Means

On Tuesday, a Muslim terrorist rented a truck and drove it down a pedestrian walkway in lower Manhattan, killing eight and wounding 11.

When the terrorist (ISIS, an Islamic extremist group, has claimed responsibility) jumped from the vehicle, witnesses say he yelled, “Allahu akbar!” CNN likes to translate this phrase as meaning “God is great.” The New York Times does, too, as in this passage from its front-page story on Wednesday, when it said the terrorist “ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting ‘Allahu akbar,’ Arabic for ‘God is great’ …”

But it doesn’t mean that — not by a longshot.

“Allahu akbar” means, literally, “Allah is greater.” But the elative tense in Arabic is somewhat flexible, so it can also mean “Allah is greatest.” Either way, though, there is no generic deity — it isn’t just “God.” No, Allah is explicit in the phrase and means, literally, “Allah” — not “God.”

“The translation of the phrase is often rendered as ‘God is Great,’ but when you unpack the term you quickly realize that it is much more than a simple expression,” The Jerusalem Post wrote. “After all, a simple expression would never do as the last words a Muslim speaks while maiming and murdering innocents.”

Allahu Akbar does not actually mean “God is Great,” and contrary to common belief, it is not a phrase from the Koran. In fact, it is not found anywhere at all in the holy book of Islam, but rather in the Hadith.

The Arabic expression is called the takbir. The words “akbar” and “takbir” use the same three-letter root, k-b-r, which means “big” or “great.” Allahu Akbar is, in fact, part of the muezzin’s call to prayer. It is a phrase used in times of happiness and joy, used when a baby is being born, during the pilgrimage to Mecca called the hajj and during festivals called the Eid. And yes, also in wartime and in jihad.

But the phrase soon began to mean something else entirely.

We understand how it was intended when Egyptian Olympic judoka Islam El Shenaby uttered the words just before his match with Israeli Olympic judoka Ori Sasson. He was not celebrating the birth of a child.

It was a declaration of jihad, of war, it was a war cry used to destroy the non-believer. …

After September 11, 2001, the FBI said that they found notes with the takbir among the possessions of the terrorist in Dulles, the crash site in Pennsylvania and in Mohamed Atta’s suitcase.

In the suitcase they even found a note that read, “When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout ‘Allahu Akbar,’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers.”

Micah Halpern, a political commentator, also traces the phrase back to the Hadith, a set of additional Muslim texts written after the Koran. One passage describes how the prophet Mohamed prepared to attack Jews in 628 A.D., shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

The exact quote from the Hadith is: “The Prophet set out for Khaibar and reached it at night. He used not to attack if he reached the people at night, till the day broke. So, when the day dawned, the Jews came out with their bags and spades. When they saw the Prophet; they said, ‘Muhammad and his army!’ The Prophet said, ‘Allahu Akbar! (Allah is Greater) and Khaibar is ruined, for whenever we approach a nation [i.e. enemy to fight] then it will be a miserable morning for those who have been warned.’” “Allahu” is the nominative form of the word “Allah,” the name of God in Islam. It is not God. There is a significant difference between the name of God and the word “god.”

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